Further to my statement last week (click here to view the statement), I listened very intently to the Prime Minister last Thursday when he came to the House of Commons to present his case for extending British airstrikes to ISIS targets in Syria. Despite my scepticism, I was willing to be convinced. In many ways I was hoping to be convinced. However, I cannot say that I was convinced. I therefore intend to vote against British airstrikes in Syria when the vote takes places tomorrow.
My fundamental concern remains that, whilst I want ISIS to be destroyed, I do not believe that airstrikes alone will be a sufficient strategy to do this. Ground forces will be required. The PM clearly acknowledged this in his statement, but his claim that the Free Syrian Army has sufficient forces to do this is not one I can agree with. Even if these forces are as numerous (i.e. 70,000 strong) as claimed, many are already engaged in fighting the pro-Assad regime Syrian Army. It seems the Government are still unwilling to acknowledge the unpalatable truth, which is that it is not possible to intervene on one side of a civil war without giving de facto assistance to the other side. ISIS clearly represent a threat to us in the UK, but the Assad regime has killed by far the most civilians and significantly fuelled the refugee crisis affecting Europe. There are no easy or simple options here.
Essentially, we are being asked to commit British forces to a theatre of war in which they would be pro-Free Syrian Army (FSA), anti-ISIS, and anti-Assad. In the same theatre are the Russians, who are anti-FSA, anti-ISIS, but pro-Assad. ISIS themselves are anti-FSA, anti-Russia, and anti-us. Meanwhile in Iraq, our allies against ISIS are the Turks and the Kurds, but they oppose each other. Turkey is also in a major stand off with Russia, having shot down one of their planes. In addition, our ally in the Middle East Saudi Arabia has a history of support for ISIS, whilst our major opponent, Iran, is on the same side as us in opposing them. I could go on, but it is reasonable to simply say this is a very complex situation that requires more than just military engagement. A wider diplomatic and political agreement, supported by regional ground forces and possibly then, Western air power, is the only way forward. This lack of a compelling overall strategy is why I will vote against the Government tomorrow, and it is a point echoed by many other members of the House of Commons, such as the Conservative Chair of the Defence Select Committee Julian Lewis MP.
Finally, much of the debate on this issue has been interpreted through the prism of the internal politics of the Labour Party. I regret this a great deal. I can promise all constituents that, on matters such as these, I make up my own mind regardless of the intentions of colleagues or the party leadership. The first thing I ever did as our MP, just days after the 2010 election, was attend the funeral of a young man from Hyde who lost his life in action in Afghanistan. Amongst a great many emotions felt that day, I promised myself I would only ever vote for British military action abroad if I was absolutely convinced of the case that had been made for it. There is a case for action in Syria, but I am not convinced it is sufficient to warrant voting yes tomorrow. My vote will therefore be to oppose the Government.
Photo credit: Freedom House (Creative Commons license)